- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

The Guardian Angels distributed pamphlets, painted over graffiti and took phone calls yesterday from desperate parents seeking advice about gangs.

“That was a mother who called me. She said her son was in a gang, then asked how to get him out,” said Marcos Martinez, 33, returning his cell phone to a belt clip under his bright red jacket with a large Guardian Angels emblem on the back.

Yesterday’s efforts, organized from a command post near the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Church on 16th Street, was perhaps the most visible sign that the crime-fighting volunteer group has arrived in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood since announcing the plan last month.

The volunteers have been patrolling there and in the nearby Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan neighborhoods since October, when a gunbattle on 16th street killed a young man and wounded a bus driver.

During the summer, fatal shootings off 14th Street and behind a Safeway on Columbia Road also were connected to gang violence.

Police officers were giving their cell-phone numbers to Guardian Angels so the volunteers could reach them directly instead of calling 911. Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey welcomed the group.

Not far away from Mr. Martinez stood John Ayala, leader of the District’s Guardian Angels chapter, who was overseeing members distributing fliers written in English and Spanish.

“We’re … hoping the community can contact us,” said Mr. Ayala, 34.

As Mr. Martinez and Mr. Ayala worked their phones, other Guardian Angels were painting over the gang symbols that appeared on walls and fences the night before near the intersection of Irving and 16th streets NW.

“You should get rid of the signs in 24 hours because if you don’t, the gang will feel like they own the community,” said Mr. Ayala, who started the group’s D.C. chapter 15 years ago. “These signs were painted last night.”

“We were on patrol until 5:30 this morning, but didn’t see them,” said Frank Lee, 26, a Guardian Angels member for more than 10 years and director of the group’s East Coast operations.

Mr. Ayala said the group’s 15 volunteers will be trying to stop criminal activity by nabbing a purse snatcher or detaining somebody for defacing property with graffiti, then calling police.

However, group members also want to talk with youths who show inclinations toward joining gangs, or who are already members and encourage them to become junior Guardian Angels.

“Catching them from the ages of 8 to 15 is the best,” Mr. Ayala said. “Tell them how to stay away from gangs. Encourage them to pick up trash, learn how to beautify the community, and feel better about where they live.”

When he has a chance to talk to young people, Mr. Martinez tells them of his own experiences while growing up in Wilmington, Del.

“This is a way for me to pay my debt to society for when I was a little kid in a lot of trouble,” said Mr. Martinez, now a telemarketing manager. “When I talk to a young kid, I tell him about my experiences.”

Mr. Ayala, a truck driver, was stabbed with an ice pick and slashed with a knife while assisting police. His wife, Wanda, nicknamed “Lip Stick,” is also a Guardian Angel, and they have three children.

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